Editor’s Letter: Happy New Year – as WLD reaches its 10,000th article

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west leeds dispatch board
West Leeds Dispatch board: (from left): Noel Akers, Jill Stocks, Diane Law, Iola Shaw and Anne Akers. Front row: John Baron

By John Baron, editor & co-founder

It’s New Year’s Eve and as I type this article I’m sat at our kitchen table, munching through some posh chocolate biscuits we were given as a Christmas gift and washing them down a freshly brewed cup of Yorkshire Tea. And I feel proud.

You see, today marked a special landmark for WLD – we published our 10,000th article since our website started eight-and-a-half years ago, back in May 2015. Time flies when you’re having fun, as they say!

I’m sure you’ll agree that this milestone is quite an achievement for a small community led operation like ours. It’s a lot of words and photos over the years (must be a few hundred thousand words – I can’t even begin to count them!).

What I do know is that it’s a lot of shining a light on the work of local groups and organisations, celebrating individuals, providing important community information, tracking planning applications, keeping an eye on local issues and holding the powers that be to account.

2023 has been a great year for WLD. Our quarterly print edition was nominated for Community Newspaper of the Year at the national Newspaper Awards and it was nice to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of The Guardian and The Telegraph! A couple of months later I attended an invitation-only Local News Champion reception at number 10 Downing Street as recognition of WLD‘s work in the community. We even got to interview the PM when he visited Farsley last month! Our new what’s on section has also proven hugely popular, with hundreds of events being featured each month.

We’ve also had a record 1.3 million page views on our site this year and have never been more widely read.

Some of the attendees of a community reporters’ training course at our community newsroom in 2022. Photo: John Baron

While it’s always nice to receive accolades, at the heart of our organisation is our wonderful team of volunteer community reporters. It’s been great to run three of our training courses this year – honestly, I get such a kick out of running them and it’s always a proud moment when our graduates’ first articles go live on the site or in our newspaper!

My thanks to everyone who has been part of the 1,700 contributions by community reporters in the past five years since we started running courses. Thanks also to our stalwart board members, who help steer West Leeds Community Media through what are increasingly choppy waters for local media.

It’s no secret that local journalism is in crisis, the traditional business model which sustained the industry for decades has virtually collapsed. As a result there are fewer and fewer local journalists on the beat (the BBC, YEP and Leeds Live all have fewer reporters working for them now than they did at the start of the year and Leeds Live has even closed its offices).

West Leeds Dispatch editor John Baron outside the doors of number 10 Downing Street

While I approach 2024 with my usual sense of excitement for what’s happening in our communities, it’s going to be a challenging year for WLD. Our National Lottery funding runs out in May and, while we are seeking further funding, our own medium to long future remains unclear.

Without local journalism, our democracy suffers. There’s no-one to let you know about the latest planning or licensing applications, or to shine a light on council decisions and debates, or to highlight how your council tax is being spent. Local journalism should stimulate people to be more active in their community – it should foster community spirit and galvanise communities, sometimes into action.

I start 2024 with a real worry about how its decline impacts our communities and our democracy, particularly against the backdrop of the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the inevitable dangers of disinformation it brings at the hands of bad players.

At this point I must thank our brilliant band of supporters, who each donate £4, £10 or even more a month to support what we’re doing here in West Leeds. We couldn’t do it without you. If you’d like to join them in supporting independent community journalism, then please follow this link, we’d dearly appreciate it.

It’s the support and warmth from our volunteers, supporters, readers and partners who keep us doing what we’re doing as we look ahead to our ninth birthday in May.

In the meantime we look ahead to 2024 in West Leeds – what will happen to the TV Harrison ground in Wortley? Which local events or groups will you take part in this year? When will those flood defences in Kirkstall finally be finished? Will Kirkstall Goit finally be restored? Will those plans for housing in Pudsey be finally approved? What will close next as council cuts are brought in? Will Pudsey Civic Hall be saved? What will be built in your community? And most importantly, will Farsley Celtic avoid relegation this year?! Keep your eyes peeled!

I wish you and your families a happy, healthy and prosperous 2024.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Congratulations! Keep up the good work! It is always so interesting and I’ve learned so much about the West Leeds I live in since I found this site x

  2. Without you at the ,my captain,oh my captain this paper boat would have capsized many additions ago

    Heave ho into the new year. Set the main sail. May trade winds blow us forward on a sea of news articles.

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